Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Keeping Teens out of Summer Trouble

Summer is a time when teenagers are especially a challenge to manage. School’s out; parents are at work, school-based clubs and organizations don’t meet, and there are fewer opportunities to find jobs due to age or transportation restrictions. For many teens, this adds up to a long, hot, Florida summer with nothing to do except spend time with their friends and possibly get into trouble.

A recent study conducted in Palm Beach County examined crimes committed by juveniles processed through youth court. By comparing arrests by month across a three-year span from 2000 to 2003, it was found that first arrest rates in June for the most recent year were about one and a half times what they were the year prior.

It’s important for parents and youth workers to think about what these arrest trends tell us and how to best deal with potential problems. During summer months, parents can help steer their teens in a positive direction -- encouraging involvement in hobbies, sports or volunteer activities that they may not have the time to explore during their school year.

It’s also a good idea to open a discussion with your teen so they know you understand that they may sometimes have difficulty making the right decision. It is important to make them aware, however, that a poor decision may have long-term serious effects. By heightening their awareness, when a decision arises about a potentially risky behavior, it may make them think twice before acting on it.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Dealing with Toddler Temper Tantrums

Most parents have experienced the incredible tantrums of toddlers. My oldest child had perfected her tantrums to award-winner status until I finally figured out I had to change the way I reacted to her. After that, the other two seemed much easier at this stage. All toddlers have tantrums because they get frustrated easily and have very few problem-solving skills. Most likely, a tantrum will happen when toddlers are hungry, exhausted, or over-excited. Let’s face it - we adults are not at our best when we are hungry, exhausted or over-excited either!

So what are we supposed to do when faced with a tantrum? First, try to remain calm. Shaking, slapping, spanking or screaming at your child will make the tantrum worse. Set a positive example for your child by remaining in control of yourself and of your emotions.

Second, pause before you act. Take at least 30 seconds to decide how to handle the tantrum. Consider distracting the child or taking him to a private place to calm down if you are out in public - and isn’t that where the best tantrums happen? “I need help finding the biggest box of chocolate pudding, can you help?” or “Let’s go outside where we can get some fresh air” might be enough to calm your child.

Some children do well if you lower yourself to their level, calmly look them in the eye and whisper or sing soothing words to them. Other children simply need a caring adult to gently put their arms around them to let them know everything’s going to be OK.

One of the best ways to react to a tantrum is to give your child no reaction at all. If they don’t get attention, they may quickly learn that a tantrum isn’t the best way to get what they want. If you give in to their wants just to make the tantrum stop, you are only encouraging them to act this way.

Third, always wait until your child calms down before talking about the situation. You cannot reason with a screaming child. Tell your child how she can act when she feels a tantrum coming on. Comfort and reassure your child that you still love him, even though you disapprove of their behavior. Remember to give plenty of praise when your child is cooperative, too.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Your Teen wants to Date

Often teens (whether their parents are ready or not) are granted the chance to date formally when they are between 13 and 16. When teens date, understand and remember the very persuasive pressure of both peers and hormones. Make sure you and your child have talked about the rules and expectations for dating. Be sure that you have had honest discussions about sex and the consequences of early intimacy.

Spend time talking about good choices for places to go, things to do and ways to handle the unexpected. For instance, does your teen know what to do if the car breaks down, if he or she needs a ride home, or how to protect oneself from an unwanted romantic advance?

Don’t be afraid to talk to your son or daughter candidly about relationships, dating, and sex. If you don’t others will . . . and wouldn’t your rather have them get the facts from you?

Remember, there are exceptions to every rule. Some children may not date until they are 16 or 17, others may begin much younger. Some 11 – 14 year olds may skip the group dating and become quite seriously quickly. Pay attention to your child. Open, trusting communication can keep you informed as to whether or not your pre-teen or teen is becoming too serious, too soon. Their Facebook pages will give you information, too. Don’t be afraid to check it out!

Help encourage healthy dating practices and be on alert for unhealthy, risky dating relationships. Parents who are more involved and aware of their pre-teen’s and teen’s activities, friendships and dating relationships, are more likely to have children involved in less risk-taking experiences.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Sibling Rivalry: What's a Parent to do?

Nothing upsets a parent more on a daily basis than the constant bickering and fighting that goes on between their children. Togetherness can sometimes turn a peaceful and quiet home into a battleground. When my daughters would bicker, I used to tell myself “If you don’t see blood, don’t get involved.” There are, however, some helpful ideas parents can try to keep sibling rivalry at a minimum.

Set limits on how far they can go in what they say and do. Rules need to be made about whether the children are permitted to exchange put-downs or call each other names. Physical assaults, such as hitting and kicking should never be permitted. Children must know the rules and consequences for breaking the rules and must learn when parents say something, they mean it.

Give each child individual attention. A child who feels brother or sister is getting more time, attention or favors is likely to feel jealous. Help the child who feels this way by setting aside some time to be with him or her. Even 15 minutes can help.

Reduce Competition. As children get older, sibling rivalry may increase. Parents can help by avoiding comparisons and by assuring each child that every person has special abilities and talents. Get each child involved in their own activities separate from each other. One child can choose volleyball, another child can choose softball.

Encourage cooperation by recognizing it when it happens. If you see your son share his toys with a brother, tell him you appreciate it. “I really like the way you let Jason build blocks with you. That makes a nice feeling in our family.” Praise is most effective when you describe the behavior you like and why you like it.

Be fair. Being fair, however, does not always mean being equal. Older children may have more privileges due to greater maturity. Resist the urge to buy each child something new just because one child is having a birthday. Children are allowed a special day or celebration all to their own, as long as everyone gets their chance to be in the spot-light.

Check the home atmosphere. Probably the most important aspect of handing sibling rivalry is the home atmosphere. Develop a warm and loving relationship with each child. Spend time alone one-on-one with each child to help them feel wanted, loved and important

Monday, May 23, 2011

Defining Family by Children's Living Arrangements

While the average American may think of family as Mom, Dad, 2.2 children and a dog, that picture is not as common as you might think. Today’s families may be nuclear, adopted, blended or extended. They may not include siblings, or even parents. For many children, family is defined by their living arrangement. That being the case, here’s how American children might define their families today, according to a recent Census Bureau report, “Living Arrangements of Children.”

Seventy-one percent of children live in two-parent households, 26% live in single-parent households, and 4% live without either parent. 15% of children live in blended families, and 21% live in households with no siblings. Those with single parents (remember, that’s one out of every four) have a poverty rate of 27% - double the overall poverty rate for all households with kids. Also of interest: single mother households went from 8% 100 years ago to 11% in 1970 to 22% today.

Rearchers attribute the changing makeup of families to many cultural and economic factors and see more change to come. So . . . what does “family” mean to you?

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Helping Your Child Deal with Peer Pressure

The issue of teen use of drugs and alcohol is alarming, but parents can and do make a difference in a teen’s decision to use or not. Family researchers say you have to establish a firm “no use” drug and alcohol family rules. Once the rule has been established, there are some ideas from researches at Brown University about how to help your child deal with peer pressure and drugs.

Responding to peer pressure in a kind but firm tone of voice is the best way to go. Parents can role-play scenarios with teens and come up with ideas for catch phrases to legitimize their reasons for not using drugs, such as “I’ve tried that before and I don’t like the taste” or, “No, that’s not my kind of stuff.”

You might consider other reasons referring to consequences, such as “The one time I tried it, I got really sick and threw up all over the place.” Talk with your teen to see what phrases he or she might find easiest to use.

Another tactic your teen might use is to change the subject, and, if push comes to shove, leave the scene. I repeatedly told my then-adolescent children that if they were ever in an uncomfortable situation, they could call for a ride home – no questions asked! The issue is not always outside influences, but those within the family. When teens don’t feel their families support them, they are at a greater risk for problems.

Keep lines of communication open, use active listening while conveying support and concern, and calmly reinforce a “no use” rule of drugs and alcohol. These are the most effective way to help adolescents and teens resist using and/or depending on drugs and alcohol.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Step-Grandparent Relationships

Parents may greet the announcement of a grown child’s re-marriage and the addition of “step-grandchildren” with mixed emotions. The idea of becoming a step-grandparent may generate anxiety about whether you’ll like the children and whether they will like you. You may also wonder what, exactly, are the duties of a step-grandparent?

Family life educators from Kansas State University offer helpful insights on making the transition to step-grandparenting. First, understand that this relationship can’t be created overnight. Relax and let yourself enjoy the process of getting to know and care for each member of the blended family. If you feel the children are slow to warm up to you, remember that his family was likely created out of loss, through divorce or the death of a parent. Your relationship-building may have to work around their feelings of loss and conflict.

As a step-grandparent, you can have an important role in your new family. For example, it’s not uncommon for children to feel as though their newly married parents are too involved with their own lives and each other to find time for the children. Additionally, stepchildren often want to have a relationship with their new grandparents – but may be uncertain about how to get started.

With the gift of time you can offer companionship and a listening ear. You may find you have many things in common. You will need to create your own grandparenting role, one that is comfortable for you and that works for the stepfamily.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Media Influence on Pre-teen Body Image

If you are thinking about talking to your children about their body image when they hit puberty you may be too late. A recent study published in the Family and Consumer Sciences Research Journal showed that children as young as 8 are unhappy with their own bodies.

To better understand how they see themselves, children were shown child body shapes ranging from very thin to obese and were then asked which one look most like them, and which was their ideal figure. Results showed that the “ideal shape” for boys was heavier than their normal healthy weight. Even though some girls were at what is considered the ideal weight for their height, they desired an extremely thin, unhealthy body type. When asked about what they would consider the ideal for the opposite sex, boys chose a much thinner size for girls than what is considered healthy, and girls chose a much heavier body type for boys.

The authors of this study highlight that the media play a critical role in our children’s perception of how they think they should look. Girls who viewed more TV were more dissatisfied with their bodies than girls who viewed less.

How can adults help children develop and maintain a healthy body image? The research suggests that we start talking to children in elementary school about what is healthy compared to what our culture tells us is ideal. Parents and teachers can help children think critically about what they are seeing and reading in the media and discover any negative impacts these messages are having on their self esteem.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Trends in Balancing Work and Family

Today’s young women in college often talk about their plans for work and family as if they are one, seamless word: familyandcareer.

Placing equal importance on these two dimensions of life would have been un-imaginable to previous college-educated women. Up until World War I, female college graduates had to choose family OR career, and jobs were typically in a few professions, such as teaching, social work, and nursing. Later generations chose work, then family, (or family, then work) after children entered school or left home.

Only in more recent generations have women tried to do both. Early baby boomers often delayed marriage and childbirth so they could have a career before starting a family. They were probably the first generation of U.S. women to enter a variety of professions.

Recognizing problems with the biological clock, the most recent group of graduates want to combine career AND family. Those who finished college between 1980 and 2000 tended to stay in the labor force when they married and had children, and a larger percentage (between 21% and 27%) have managed to achieve both family and career by age 40 than any previous generation.

Why did the change take place? Some changes were based on the labor market. There were more professions open to women than in the past, as colleges and employers expanded training and opportunities for women. Also, more than any previous generation, women had more freedom to decide when to start a family. It’s great that women have the opportunity and ability to have both career and family. But let me tell you – as a mom with three children AND a career, it hasn’t been easy!

Monday, May 9, 2011

Learning to Parent

Did you grow up in a warm and nurturing home? Did your parents show they cared, listen and talk things over with you, teach you new things, and respect you? Recent research shows that positive parenting behaviors can be passed down from one generation to the next.

According to an international team of researchers reporting in the Journal of Child Development, mothers who were raised in a positive, nurturing home during childhood and adolescence are more likely to raise their own children that way. This study was based on interviews and observations of more than 200 New Zealanders followed over 20 years, beginning during childhood and as participants in the study became parents themselves.

Researchers found that mothers who were reared in supportive homes tend to support their own children in warm, sensitive and stimulating ways. Those who were raised in a low-conflict household and who had trusting and close relationships with their parents during their early teen years were more likely to engage in such positive parenting with their own young children.

This research suggests that a mother’s own experiences certainly shape her parenting style. We learn to parent from our own parents – good or bad. Parents who want to make a change in their parenting style are encouraged to attend parent education classes, where they learn to create a positive environment for their children. This can start a chain reaction that lasts across generations. For more information on parenting classes: http://hillsboroughfcs.ifas.ufl.edu/ParentingClasses.html

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Table Manners

Do you ever find yourself wondering if your children have any table manners at all? Most parents do, especially during an extended family gathering or holiday meal. Some tips to set your child on the road to table etiquette:

• Check your own example. If you burp at the table in the middle of a meal, expect your children to do the same.

• Don’t turn dinner into an unpleasant lecture time about manners. Instead, explain the rules ahead of time. “You may find yourself at an important job interview during a dinner, or on a big dinner date and it’s my job to teach you how to behave so that you’ll impress whoever it is you want to impress. I would hate to see you embarrassed because you have no manners.”

• Point out good behavior in a neutral, practical way, such as; “It’s a good idea to unfold your napkin and put it on your lap so that if food falls, you won’t stain your clothes.”

• Try to have a more formal dinner once a month. Dress up, serve a special meal, use the good plates, invite a guest and expect more formal manners from your children.

• Take your children to a nice restaurant and allow them to order their own food, communicate with the wait staff, figure the tip, etc.

• Of course, let your kids know that bad manners aren’t offensive if there’s no one there to see it. If they want to eat mashed potatoes with their fingers and they’re alone – or with a friend who wants to do the same - it’s not a violation. When was the last time you ate mashed potatoes with your fingers?

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Teens "Hooking Up"

Keeping up with teenagers is no easy task. Just trying to decipher their language can be daunting! I have found it especially challenging to interpret how the teens I know define their relationships. When I ask if someone is dating, I might hear, “No Mom . . . they’re just talking.” I’m not sure teens today would understand me either if I were to pose such an old school nation as “going steady.”

In an attempt to better understand teenager sexual relationships, researchers from Bowling Green State University (Woohoo – GO FALCONS!) recently studied the phenomenon teens refer to as “hooking up.” Hooking up is the act of engaging in sexual activity with a partner (or partners) that the teen is not formally dating. According to research reported in the Journal of Adolescent Research, more than half of the sexually active teens the researchers studied had experienced this form of casual or “non-relationship” sex.

Of interest, the teens studied were not engaging in one-night stands or having sex with people they didn’t know. Instead, these teens were sexually involved with friends or ex-boyfriends or girlfriends or what some call “friends with benefits.” Additionally, about one third of these non-dating sexual partnerships are associated with hopes or expectations that the relationship will lead to a more conventional dating relationships.

The researchers in this study, like other family scholars and practitioners before them, expressed concerns that these teens may be taking risks that they are not even aware of. They also point out that what is not known is how these casual sexual relationships will influence the way these teens look at long-term relationships, specifically marriage, later in life.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Helping Children Cope with Divorce

All children feel a strong sense of loss when parents separate or divorce. It is not unusual for children of any age to rebel, misbehave, or become withdrawn. They cannot understand all the issues involved in a divorce, and may feel confused, frightened and worried.

If you are going through a divorce, be aware of your child’s losses and offer them the support they need. Divorce is a transition that usually last one or two years - before, during and after the divorce.

Whether you are the residential or non residential parent, start by reassuring your children that you love them and that they are not to blame for the divorce. Encourage them to share their questions and any feelings they may have about the divorce, listen and be patient. Sometimes it may be difficult to focus on your children as you go through your own transition, but parenting in a loving, attentive way is one of the most important things you can do.

In addition, provide a safe, warm and loving environment in the homes of both parents, if possible. Have children keep clothing and personal items in both places so they feel a sense of belonging and don’t need to pack a suitcase or backpack every time they transfer from one home to another. Find some books at the library that talk about divorce appropriate for your child’s level of understanding and read them together.

Don’t depend on your children for emotional support. Instead, seek out help from friends, family or a professional counselor. Children are counting on their parents to care for themselves as well as they care for their children.